Illustration by Kate Moore

Ahhhh! Emotions in My Classroom

The Scariest Thing

Since it’s October, I figure it is a good time to talk about what scares me. And what scares me these days is seeing how we talk to each other. It seems that no matter what side of the political debate you are on, the other side is full of know-nothings who are set out to destroy all that is good in the world. Surely there are differences. Surely there are selfish motivations. But I would wager that at heart, there aren’t so many differences among us.

But it’s terrifying to watch debates descend into name-calling. It’s terrifying what our children might be learning from all this. Are they learning that when faced with an alternate opinion, they should start shouting? Are they learning that people with a different perspective are evil?

We have to do better than this. We have to be better than this. We have to show our children that we are all roommates in this country — on this planet — together. If there are dirty dishes in the sink, we can’t just start screaming and pointing fingers (well we could, but our roommates might move out, get their own apartment, and leave us with the mess and the rent). We have to be able to talk about things without our anger, insecurities, fear, and egos overpowering the whole conversation.

Teachers aren’t new to this. We see our students in all their phases and moods. But often, in the aim of getting through the content, we try to keep emotions outside the room. Rather than trying to push these emotions aside, we should invite them in and help students work with them.

Emotions in the Classroom

Emotions in the classroom can be scary. They can be subtle, simmering emotions that are unwittingly throwing off your whole lesson. They can be overpowering emotions that run roughshod through your classroom, tormenting all in their path.

In addition to all the different learning styles present in your classroom, the different personalities and emotions students bring with them present their own challenges. Just like learning styles, they can change the pace of learning, impact what activities work best, and leave students feeling confused or left behind when they aren’t identified appropriately.

Similarly, just like learning styles, different emotions and personalities are less of a challenge when students and teachers understand them better. To help students understand their own learning process so they can learn better, we ask students metacognitive questions. So, let’s ask meta-emotional questions to help them understand how their emotions impact them and those around them.

Meta-Emotional Questions

Examples of meta-emotional questions to ask students:

  • What is your mood today?
  • What do you think is affecting your mood?
  • If you were paired up with someone you didn’t like or found irritating right now, how do you think you’d react? Would your react differently if you were in a different mood?
  • After a discussion, ask students their emotional reaction to the debate.

The goal here is to begin to bring emotional awareness to our students. The more we leave students on their own to navigate the interactions between ever-shifting emotions and diverse personalities, or relegate all responsibility to counselors, the more we can expect to see polarizing, disrespectful discourse in the future. Students bring their whole selves to the classroom; we have to engage the whole person or risk raising adults who are no more in control than 3-year olds. That’s pretty scary.

This is the beginning of a series on emotions in the classroom. Over the next several weeks we will learn how to identify and work with a variety of emotional states so they don’t hijack our classrooms. Want to find out more on how Pear Deck can help you understand student emotions in the classroom? Visit

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